Sunday, October 16, 2011

Batman: Cacophony (comics)

Writer: Kevin Smith
Artist: Walt Flanagan
Collects: Batman: Cacophony #1-3

I didn't have high hopes for this one. This particular book has been slammed up and down the internet. While I tend to prefer judging things on my own, it's pretty difficult to see such negativity about the book and not have my expectations altered.

It's not, however, the vicious attack on all things sacred the comic community would lead you to believe. That it's not completely terrible doesn't mean it's good, though. Because it's not.

As you can see if you glance above the spiffy Adam Kubert drawn cover, you'll see that Kevin Smith - the film director - is behind this book. Obviously they're selling it on those grounds; his damn name is bigger than Batmans on that cover. If you've ever seen one of Kevin Smiths films, you know he employs a lot of vulgarity, dick, fart and poop jokes. He's also written some genuinely good movies, but that tends to be in spite of his writing tics.

Obviously, he can get away with all of that because the characters in his movie are his own. Not to say this is the first time he's worked with corporate characters - there are even references to his past work in here - but still, there's a clear difference. Can you really have jokes about anal sex and poop flinging in a book about Batman and actually try to play it off as a serious read? Turns out, no, it just doesn't work. The fact that Smith has Batman monologue a lot about how he wishes he could leave his foes to die rings false, as well.

Also problematic is that Smith overloads the book with references to Batmans past, I guess to prove his credentials as a Batman fan. In small doses, these sort of references can be a cute wink and nod to fans. A few in this book even made me smile, like the joke Alfred makes about Jean Paul Valley in regards to something Batman says. But there comes a point where you're spending way too much time winking at the reader about the past; there's a nod to Death in the Family that adds nothing to the monologue and in one of the last scenes of the book we have dialogue that brings both Going Sane and Dark Knight Returns to the forefront of our minds.

Worse still, despite Smiths best efforts, there are occasions where characters just don't sound like themselves. Batman in particular over-monologues in the first issue while Joker is turned into a conduit for Smiths usual sex jokes. When two of your three central characters doesn't sound right, there's a problem.

Despite all that, there are things I did like. Smith decides to use Maxie Zeus - a rarely used and often forgotten old Batman foe - as a major plot player for much of the book, while Smiths own created villain - Onomatopoeia - is a fairly novel antagonist, despite the fact that he only speaks in sound effects. Also, while it didn't come off as well as I'm sure he'd hope, I appreciated the fact that Smith wanted to put his own stamp or spin on the never-ending battle between Batman and Joker with his final scenes.

The idea that Jokers toxin - when watered down - can be used as a recreational drug was a good one as well.

The art's by one of Kevin Smiths buddies, Walt Flanagan. That has been slammed too, for both the art itself and the nepotism. It's not particularly great, but it's not terrible either. There are times when it looks pretty good and others where it looks off. He seems to get better as the miniseries rolls on, though; most of the iffier drawings are in the first issue, mostly of the Joker. By issue 3 he's got a much better handle on the character. Given the amount of comics I've read, I've seen much worse.

The Score: 5.5 out of 10

This book is a bit under mediocre and just into bad territory, I figure. It's not as terrible as I've seen it made out to be, but it's not worth adding to your bookshelf either. It may be worth a flip through if you really like Kevin Smith, but I wouldn't pay full price for it. For most, it's a curiosity at best.

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